2 November 2017
A Yazidi man prays in Lalish, Iraq, near Kurdistan. (photo: Diego Cupolo/NurPhoto via Getty Images)
Most people in the west had never heard of the Yazidis before ISIS attacked them with genocidal fury in August 2014. Thousands of Yazidi men were captured and killed. Yazidi women and young girls were sold as sex slaves in the market place of Mosul. Many Yazidis took refuge on Mount Sinjar in northwestern Iraq and were threatened with starvation and lack of water. The world watched in horror as entire families faced starvation and death at the hands of ISIS. (There were even accounts of desperate mothers throwing their children from the mountain to keep them from being slaughtered by the Islamic militants.) Thus, the Yazidis entered the consciousness of the West as people of great tragedy and even greater mystery.
The Yazidi religion is not well understood. It tends to be very inward looking and secretive. The five daily prayers — an echo of Islam — are not said when outsiders are present. It is an endogamous faith that allows marriage only between a Yazidi man and Yazidi woman. Anyone marrying outside the faith is automatically considered to have converted to the other religion — and is effectively excommunicated.
Scholars refer to Yazidi belief as being syncretistic — that is, one faith taking over elements of another. This is common among almost all the religions of the world to some extent. (Christians, for example, took over the Roman pagan feast of Saturnalia, “baptized” it and made it into Christmas, despite the fact that the Bible is totally silent on what time of year Jesus was born.) In the Yazidi religion we see elements of Islam (the five daily prayers), Judaism (Saturday as a day of rest and the names of the seven “angels”) and other ancient religions such as Zoroastrianism, the ancient religion of Persia.
Similarly, their beliefs contain echoes of other faiths. Yazidis believe in one God who is the creator of all. However, their God is a remote deity that has little to do with creation. Rather there are seven “angels” who are emanations of this God; this is a characteristic found in Gnosticism, another ancient religion of the region. Of these angels, the head is Melek Ta’us or the Peacock Angel. Melek Ta’us is responsible for the world and its inhabitants. Two beliefs about Melek Ta’us have proven fateful for Yazidis. Because he is responsible for everything that happens in creation, Melek Ta’us is the source of both good and evil. Even in the earliest parts of the Bible we see a struggle as to who or what the source of evil is (see 2 Samuel 17:14 God overturns the advice of Ahitophel because God wanted “to bring evil on Absalom.”)
In addition, Yazidis have a story about God creating humanity and asking the angels to bow down to Adam. A similar story appears in the Qur’an (2:35 and elsewhere). In Yazidi faith, Melek Ta’us refused to bow; in Islam, Iblis refused to bow. For Yazidis this was a sign of Melek Ta’us’ loyalty; for Muslims Iblis becomes identified with the Shaytan, “Satan.” Because of this, ISIS considers Yazidis devil worshippers worthy of death. While ISIS offers Christians a choice between conversion, paying the jizya tax, exile or death, the choice for the Yazidis is much starker: conversion to Islam or death.
Yazidis also have the interesting belief that, while they are descended from Adam, they are not descended from Eve but through a special creation. Thus they see themselves as unrelated to those tainted beings who are descendants of Adam through Eve.
The origins of the Yazidis and even their name are not clear. While they hold the second Umayyad Caliph, Yazid I (647-683) in high regard, it is not clear what role that plays in either their practice of the faith or their name. The Sufi leader ?Adi ibn Musafir (died 1162) also plays an important role in Yazidism and his tomb not far from Mosul is an important place of pilgrimage.
Yazidis have lived for centuries in the Kurdish parts of Iraq, Turkey, Syria and Iran. For the most part, they were ignored and left alone by the Muslim majority. In recent times, however, there has been increasing hostility towards them. It is estimated that there are between 200,000 and one million Yazidis in the world. Many have left the Middle East for Europe, Australia and parts of North America. With the brutal attacks by ISIS, the number of Yazidi refugees has understandably increased greatly.
The Yazidis are very much a part of CNEWA’s world — and we number many of them among those we serve. CNEWA is active in northern Iraq and has a clinic in the city of Dahuk in the Iraqi Province of Dahuk. Many Yazidis make use of the clinic as they try to get their lives back together and face a future that is not only uncertain, but possibly very bleak. If it is true that Christians face the possibility of extinction in the Middle East, Yazidis face the possibility of extinction in the entire world.
Religious Minorities in the East — Introduction
2 November 2017
A large crowd gathered in Eshtia for the dedication of a youth center near the village’s church — a restoration made possible, in part, by CNEWA’s generous benefactors. (photo:ArmenianCatholic.org)
Tuesday, 31 October, was a blustery day here in Georgia — but nonetheless, a large crowd of villagers from Eshtia, along with press and friends from throughout Georgia, gathered for the opening of a youth center located near the village’s landmark church.
Local clergy offered blessings and prayers at the youth center dedication.
The center, once a shell of an abandoned house, was completely rehabilitated in three months, thanks to the great team at Caritas Georgia and the men of the village.
That was then: The abandoned house is shown here last spring, before the restoration work began.
This is now: The finished youth center is shown on the day of its dedication on 31 October.
The center will offer students classes in Georgian and English, computer programming skills, faith formation and continuing education in Armenian traditions, dance, folklore and customs.
Eshtia is one of a number of Armenian villages that salt and pepper the Georgian province of Javakheti.
I was pleased to represent CNEWA at the opening and to express the best wishes and prayers of our benefactors, who helped make this happen.
CNEWA’s Michael J.L. La Civita shared his warm wishes and prayers.
View more images from the dedication here.
2 November 2017
A displaced child, pictured in March 2017, walks through a refugee camp in Zahleh, Lebanon. What does the future hold for the people of the Middle East? Read a reflection by CNEWA’s president, Msgr. John E. Kozar, in the current edition of ONE. (photo: John E. Kozar/CNEWA)
2 November 2017
Pope condemns ‘murderous folly’ of terrorism (CNS) Pope Francis prayed for victims of the terrorist attack in New York, as well as victims of other terror attacks, and condemned the murder of innocent men and women in the name of God...
Syrian opposition rejects Russian dialogue initiative (Al Jazeera) The Syrian opposition attending the latest round of peace talks in Astana has rejected the Russian call for a Congress in the Black Sea resort city of Sochi. The “Syrian Congress on National Dialogue” proposed by Moscow during the two-day talks in the Kazakh capital is expected to discuss the reconciliation between all of the warring parties, political reform and discuss the proposed new Syrian constitution...
Hamas hands control of Gaza crossings to Palestinian Authority (The Guardian) The Palestinian militant group Hamas has formally relinquished security control of key crossings from the Gaza Strip to Egypt and Israel to its long-term rival, the Palestinian Authority, marking the first test of a fragile reconciliation accord agreed last month...
‘Race of Saints’ turns focus on India’s child brides (Vatican Radio) The “Don Bosco in the World” Foundation that organizes the event, wants to draw attention this year to the child brides of India who are forced to marry adult men, with serious health and psycho-physical consequences. The foundation will sent the fund raised by this year’s “Race of Saints” to the Salesians of Don Bosco of the Province of Bangalore, active in the southern state of Karnataka, who have been working to help child brides who are denied their childhood and rights...
Sister’s beatification ‘a joy for India’ (Vatican Radio) The CBCI Secretariat has issued a Press Release on Thursday, ahead of the Beatification of Sister Rani Maria which will be held on Saturday in Indore, India. Sister Rani Maria, professed sister of the Franciscan Clarist Congregation whose cause was cleared for beatification on 23 March 2017 will be declared ‘Blessed’ at a ceremony to be held on 4 November in Indore...
31 October 2017
Sisters Irene, Catherine and Veronica, members of the Daughters of Charity of St. Vincent de Paul, are pictured at their residence at La Paix Hospital in Istanbul. (photo: CNS/Oscar Durand)
At 10 a.m., the Rev. Dominic Ko walked to the altar to begin Mass in Korean, his native tongue.
“Amen,” replied the 30 people in attendance, all of them also Korean.
The Church of St. Mary Draperis is in the heart of Istanbul, where the Franciscan Father Dominic landed 10 years ago to tend to the country’s Korean community. He is the only Korean priest in Turkey but, as a religious from a foreign country, he is not alone. He is one of the 125 Latin-rite Catholic religious from more than 20 nations. It is a tiny yet very diverse community for a country with very few Latin Catholics. Accurate numbers are not available, although the Istanbul Vicariate estimates they number about 5,000; Eastern Catholics number about 20,000.
“This place is very important in Christianity, a Christian treasure; therefore, we have to maintain this place,” said Father Dominic, who comes to Istanbul every week to celebrate Mass. He lives south of Istanbul, near the ancient city of Ephesus.
Turkey is a storied area in the history of Christianity. Early church communities began here and later expanded to the rest of the world. St. Paul traversed the region during his missionary journeys.
Much has changed since then. Today, the majority of Turkey’s 80 million inhabitants are Muslim. The number of Christians is estimated at about 100,000.
“Because there are Catholics present, we (the religious orders) are present,” said Bishop Ruben Tierrablanca Gonzalez, apostolic vicar of Istanbul. Bishop Tierrablanca, who is originally from Mexico, is a Franciscan friar; his order has been in Turkey since the 13th century.
Bishop Tierrablanca said some of the Latin Catholic religious orders currently active in Turkey put down roots many years ago. Today, despite the modest number of Catholics, they continue their mission.
Less than three miles from the church of St. Mary Draperis is the oldest psychiatric hospital in Turkey, Hospital La Paix (Peace Hospital), owned by the French Daughters of Charity of St. Vincent of Paul.
During the Crimean War, France and the Ottoman Empire asked the Daughters of Charity to help treat wounded troops. The order responded by sending a contingent of 255 sisters. About 100 of them died during their service.
After the war ended in 1856, Ottoman Sultan Abdulmejid wanted to thank the sisters for their contribution and offered them titles and medals of honor. The sisters refused and requested instead land to build a place where they could continue their charism of serving the poor. The sultan accepted and, two years later, Hospital La Paix opened its doors.
The Daughters of Charity no longer run the day-to-day operations, although they are still present at the hospital. The five sisters come from Italy, France, Greece, Slovenia and Vietnam.
“When I arrived here five years ago, I had never seen such a diversity to express the love of Christ,” said French Sister Catherine, head of the community of sisters at the hospital. Turkey is her first experience living in a country other than her own.
“It is important to show this diversity, which proves that we can live together, like brothers and sisters, doing well to each other,” she said.
Latin-rite Catholics in Turkey can attend Mass in English, Italian, French, Turkish, Korean, German and Spanish. Sometimes the Mass is only in one of these languages; sometimes it is a combination.
Back at St. Mary Draperis, as the Korean Mass ended and Father Dominic and the Korean community moved to another room to mingle, a new crowd took its place. Father Eleuthere Makuta of Congo arrived to celebrate Mass in English, French and Italian.
The Mass began and the choir, made up of Congolese, sang in French, accompanied by musicians on a keyboard and two drums.
Among the about 40 people attending Mass was Bing Giducos, who has been living in Turkey for nine years.
“It is beautiful, the joy of praying in my own language. It is as if I am one with God,” she said.
31 October 2017
Samunder Singh, who stabbed and killed Sister Rani Maria, stands in prayer before a portrait kept in her former convent in Udainagar, a mission station in northern India. She will be beatified on Saturday. (photo: UCANews.com)
Beatification of Indian nun to inspire persecuted Christians (Malaysia Herald) The upcoming beatification of an Indian nun murdered over 20 years ago, will be an inspiration for India's persecuted Christians, say local church leaders. Indian Catholics are preparing for the 4 November beatification ceremony of Sister Rani Maria Vattalil who was killed in a knife attack on 25 February 1995 as she traveled on a bus near the city of Indore on her way to her home state Kerala for a vacation. Sister Rani Maria was a member of the indigenous Franciscan Clarist Congregation in Indore Diocese situated in the central Indian state of Madhya Pradesh. She was 41 years of age when she was murdered...
Christians await compensation in India (UCANews) An ecumenical delegation has called on India’s Odisha state government to finally implement the Supreme Court’s directive to increase compensation payments to victims of anti-Christian violence. The Supreme Court issued the order more than a year ago...
Syrian refugees in Lebanon face mounting hostility (Haaretz) Heart-rending reports describe the difficulties of life in Lebanon, especially for children. Some of them, as young as 10 years old, have been forced to work. Their parents aren’t allowed to hold down jobs officially because the Lebanese government won’t give them work permits. The men who head households may find occasional employment, in construction or agriculture, but they are paid a pittance. Lebanese President Michel Aoun has explicitly clarified that Lebanon will not allow Syrian refugees to settle within its borders, and the establishment of so-called safe zones has become an excuse for the public to rally against the newcomers...
Patriarch Kirill appeals to shared faith in Romania (Christian Today) Patriarch Kirill of the Russian Orthodox Church is extending an arm of friendship to Orthodox Christians in Romania in the first visit by a head of the Russian Church since the fall of communism. Romania, a NATO and European Union member which now hosts part of the US anti-missile shield and NATO’s anti-ballistic defense system, has had cool relations with Russia since the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, although the two countries share cultural and religious ties...
Salvaging bodies: a doctor’s everyday reality in Syria (Al Jazeera) Trauma surgeon Shazeer Majeed has worked for Doctors Without Borders (MSF) in Yemen, South Sudan and Iraq. He is now working in northern Syria, a region gripped by instability, and shares his day-to-day reality of trying to keep victims of war alive...
Lebanese cardinal blesses New York chapel to St. Charbel (CNS) Cardinal Bechara Rai, patriarch of Maronite Catholics, inaugurated a chapel to Lebanon’s St. Charbel in St. Patrick’s Cathedral. The chapel is the first of its kind outside Lebanon...
Pope names auxiliary Chaldean bishop in San Diego to head Toronto eparchy (CNS) Pope Francis has appointed Auxiliary Bishop Bawai Soro of the Chaldean Catholic Eparchy of St. Peter the Apostle in San Diego as bishop of the Chaldean Catholic Eparchy of Mar Addai of Toronto. Bishop Soro, 63, has been an auxiliary bishop of the San Diego-based eparchy since the the pope named him to the post in January 2014...
30 October 2017
New York Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan, left center in red, looks on as Lebanese Cardinal Bechara Rai blesses a chapel to Lebanon’s St. Charbel in St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York City on 28 October. (photo: CNS/Mychel Akl for Maronite Catholic Patriarchate)
Cardinal Bechara Rai, patriarch of Maronite Catholics, inaugurated a chapel to Lebanon’s St. Charbel in St. Patrick’s Cathedral. The chapel is the first of its kind outside Lebanon.
“St. Charbel is a sign of hope for Christianity and for all the people of the Middle East who suffer in difficult circumstances,” Cardinal Rai said in his homily on 28 October at a Mass at the cathedral. New York Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan and Bishop Gregory J. Mansour of the Maronite Eparchy of St. Maron of Brooklyn concelebrated the Mass.
“We are here in New York and the United States to hear the voices that speak to us about the Middle East,” said Cardinal Dolan.
The artistic mosaic sanctuary depicts St. Charbel wrapped in a luminous halo in the Lebanese mountain, near the St. Maron monastery in Annaya, Lebanon, where his tomb is located. The saint is surrounded by flourishing cedars and crystalline waters of the Mediterranean, a symbol of spiritual life.
The 19th-century Lebanese Maronite monk had a strong devotion to the Eucharist. He was canonized by Blessed Paul VI in 1977.
St. Maron’s Monastery says it has approximately 26,000 documented miracles attributed to the intercession of St. Charbel, not just in Lebanon but worldwide. It says that, lately, at least 10 percent of recipients of miracles are nonbaptized individuals, including Muslims, Druze, Jews and atheists.
30 October 2017
In one Indian village, a volunteer explains how to stay healthy and battle encephalitis — one of the most serious health issues in Uttar Pradesh. (photo: CNEWA)
This morning, we received an email from M.L. Thomas, CNEWA’s regional director for India, describing efforts to combat encephalitis in the region — and how CNEWA is helping:
The Diocese of Gorakhpur took the initiative for major awareness and cleanliness activities essential to control an outbreak of encephalitis, implementing the project “JEEVAN,” through the financial support given by CNEWA. The support was very extensive — providing encouragement for the church’s volunteers in reaching out to the poor, especially when a large number of children succumb to the illness.
Encephalitis, or “killer brain fever,” is one of the most serious health issues of eastern Uttar Pradesh. It is categorized as Japanese Encephalitis (JE) and Acute Encephalitis Syndrome (AES). The villages in Gorakhpur district have a been the most affected. It is an epidemic — a silent witness to the innumerable deaths (mostly children under the age of 15, some of them infants). It destroys many with life-long mental or physical disabilities. Mosquitoes and contaminated water are the major known causes of the disease. Tragically, the season when the disease is most prevalent stretches too long, beginning with the advent of monsoons in July and lasting until December and winter every year.
As part of the project:
- The trained leaders share different themes associated with encephalitis — its symptoms, cause, prevention and cure in monthly meetings in 20 villages.
- They demonstrate the use of hand pump bleaching (purifying water through bleaching, helping to encourage cleanliness of of surroundings and the house).
- Leaders implement a community-level awareness campaign on safe drinking water, nutrition (intake of nutritious diet for decreased malnutrition in children) and sanitation.
- They organize street plays, puppet shows, and distributed pamphlets to raise the awareness of the disease.
- They host awareness sessions at schools, speaking about the importance of education, vaccination, hygiene and sanitation.
CNEWA is proud to be a part of this important initiative which — thanks to the generosity of our donors — is helping to save lives and foster hope among some of the most vulnerable people of India!
30 October 2017
The tomb of the Jewish prophet Nahum in northern Iraq, shown above, is threatened by tensions in the region. (photo: Wikipedia)
Ancient tomb of Jewish prophet in danger (The Jerusalem Post) The tomb of the Prophet Nahum, which overlooks the Nineveh plains in northern Iraq, is now near the forefront of tensions between the Iraqi federal government and Kurdistan Regional Government. Since last week Iraqi forces, including Iranian-backed Shi’ite militias, have been fighting with Peshmerga in an attempt by Baghdad to push Kurdish forces out of disputed areas and take oil fields and strategic border areas from the Kurds. Although a cease-fire took effect on Friday, tensions remain high...
‘October Light’ spirituality energizes Mumbai children (Vatican Radio) St. Anthony’s Church, Vakola, Mumbai holds a week-long event ‘October Light’ for Sunday School children and enhances the significance of light during Diwali vacation...
Three Coptic Christian churches closed in Egypt (AP) Egyptian religious officials say authorities have shuttered three Coptic Christian churches over fears of attacks by Islamic militants. The Minya Coptic Orthodox Diocese said authorities sealed off two churches in the southern province, citing harassment and attacks by fundamentalists. A third was closed due to fears of attacks. The statement was issued late on Saturday, 28 October...
Pope urges U.S. to welcome migrants (CNS) Pope Francis called on the people of the United States to welcome migrants and urged those who are welcomed to respect the laws of the country. “To all people (of the U.S.) I ask: take care of the migrant who is a promise of life for the future. To migrants: take care of the country that welcomes you; accept and respect its laws and walk together along that path of love,” the pope said 26 October during a live video conversation with teenagers from around the world...
27 October 2017
Yesterday, the Catholic Guild at John F. Kennedy International Airport honored Deacon Greg Kandra, CNEWA’s multimedia editor, with the title of Clergy of the Year. (photo: Christopher P. Kennedy)
Being on the development team at CNEWA means my colleagues and I take to the road frequently to visit donors, parishes and the areas we serve. While the joys are numerous — meeting new people, discovering new places and being able to share stories of our work — we also deal with the foibles of travel, not the least of which are New York’s three ubiquitous airports. But at Terminal 4 at J.F.K., there’s a special place that makes things a bit more bearable. Our Lady of the Skies Chapel, serving Catholics at the airport since 1955, is a welcome solace, a space for Mass or quiet prayer. Notably, I’ve discovered, it’s one of the few spots in the airport where one is not subjected to the constant din of announcements about the perils of leaving luggage unattended.
It’s also special to us at CNEWA as this year, the chapel along with J.F.K.’s Catholic Guild and their affable chaplain, the Rev. Chris Piasta, honored our own Deacon Greg Kandra, as their “Clergy of the Year.” Yesterday, I was privileged to attend the chapel’s Annual Luncheon with Deacon Greg, a frequent traveling companion of mine, along with his wife, Siobhain, and several parishioners from Our Lady Queen of Martyrs in Forest Hills, Queens, where Deacon Greg serves.
In his brief remarks at the luncheon, held at the Cradle of Aviation museum in Garden City, NY, Deacon Greg mentioned that he was the first deacon to be honored by the chapel, noting that next year marks the 50th anniversary of the restoration of the permanent diaconate. He also noted that his ministry and the chapel’s are quite similar — meeting people wherever they are in their journey of life. Quoting the hymn “The Servant Song,” he concluded: “We are pilgrims on a journey. We are travelers on the road. We are here to help each other — walk the mile and bear the load.”
The Rev. Antonin Kocurek, parochial vicar at Our Lady Queen of Martyrs; Siobhain Kandra; Bishop Nicholas DiMarzo of Brookyn; Deacon Greg Kandra; and the Rev. Francis Passenant, administrator of Our Lady Queen of Martyrs, stand outside the Our Lady of the Skies Chapel Annual Luncheon. (photo: Christopher P. Kennedy)